A year ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens star John Boyega cheerily responded to racist comments over his black stormtrooper character with a simple message to the haters: “Get used to it.”
Sunday in Los Angeles, he again addressed the backlash that erupted when the first Force Awakens trailer revealed the British actor, unmasked, clad in the iconic white armor of the fallen Empire. “I really don’t care about the black stormtrooper stuff,” Boyega said firmly. “I couldn’t care less.
“This is a movie about human beings, about Wookiees, spaceships, and TIE fighters,” he continued. “It has an undertone and a message about courage, a message of friendship and loyalty, and I think that is something that is important.”
Plot details on The Force Awakens are still on lockdown far, far away inside director J.J. Abram’s mystery box. Set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, it sees original saga stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill reprise their iconic roles alongside a cast of new heroes: Boyega as Finn, a First Order stormtrooper; Daisy Ridley as Rey, a loner from the planet Jakku; Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, an X-wing pilot flying for the Resistance.
“In a way, it’s 30 years later but the exact same things are going on, which I thought was so true to life,” he said. “We have such short memories of events and mass genocides, and then we kind of forget about them it seems, and still the same people are in charge, the same group of people. Younger [people] feel like their problems are unique but it’s all cyclical. It seems like… a lot of things have changed, the setting, but really the circumstances are the same.”
Boyega revealed that he’d seen the film last week, and that the character he related to most was Ridley’s Rey. “To be in a circumstance where you have to find something bigger than who you are within yourself is something that is an inspiration to me. I think people take that away. The kids, all they’re going to be concentrating on is BB-8.”
His favorite Internet rumor, he said, is that Finn is the grandson of Mace Windu.
Once at a party someone approached him and yelled, “Yo, black Jedi!”
“I turned around,” Boyega grinned. “It was Samuel Jackson.”
It was Fisher who stole the Star Wars spotlight on Sunday, mock-storming off the set during a playful tiff with Abrams over her dog, Gary Fisher, and throwing out Carrie Fisherisms that delighted even moderator Mindy Kaling.
She described where Leia’s at as we catch up with the onetime Rebel leader in The Force Awakens. “I do have now a baboon-ass hairstyle, and I mean that with love,” she deadpanned. “You need a sense of humor for that sort of thing. It keeps it lively when you’re getting shot.”
“We drank through the whole trilogy in the beginning,” she said, comparing the original Star Wars shoots to the new one. “This was a sober set. That’s what J.J. brought to this: Sobriety.”
According to the women of The Force Awakens, a strong feminist streak runs through the film. “That’s what was really fun about doing anything girl power-esque—bossing men around,” said Fisher. “I know a lot of women out there haven’t done that yet, and I encourage you to.”
Ridley is the discovery poised to break out with her turn as Rey, who she described as an “important role” she hopes will set an example for other women. “I hope Rey will be something of a girl power figure,” said Ridley. “She will have some impact in a girl power-y way. She’s brave and she’s vulnerable and she’s so nuanced... She doesn’t have to be one thing to embody a woman in a film. It just so happens she’s a woman but she transcends gender. She’s going to speak to men and women.”
Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie praised Abrams for updating the world of Star Wars by creating new, strong female characters like her chromed-out Captain Phasma—“Star Wars’ first onscreen female villain.”
“This is a character who so far we have related to due to her choices, due to her character, and not due to the way she has been made in flesh,” Christie said. “And conventionally that is how we have related to female characters. So this to me felt very progressive.
“The response from the audience and the fans has been so celebratory it makes me think this is the kind of thing people want to see,” she continued. “People want to see a more diverse reflection of society.”
And if Phasma lands Christie a shot at playing a high-profile superheroine—like, say, Captain Marvel, as one journalist offered—she hinted she’d be more than game: “If anyone else wants to offer me any work, I am very grateful and willing.”